Supersetting is one of the most powerful muscle-building techniques you can use—and that’s not conjecture but scientific fact. Just as the name suggests, supersets can produce some spectacular superhuman results—plus, they’ll give you a big psychological kick as well.
When you superset, you move from one exercise to another without taking a rest. You can superset opposing, or antagonistic, muscle groups, such as the biceps and triceps, or use two movements for the same muscle group, such as barbell curls and preacher curls. There’s compelling evidence from both past and present studies that elevates supersetting to elite status when it comes to a hypertrophic response.
Pumping Up the Opposition
Imagine supersetting two antagonist muscle groups like biceps and triceps. What you do is force a lot of blood into two muscles that are in close proximity to one another, which can swell an area to gargantuan proportions. After a couple of supersets your arms feel immense and look inches larger, the muscles literally hanging off your shoulder joint like blood-filled dirigibles.
So it’s an ego rush to have two opposing muscle groups like biceps and triceps or chest and back pumped to the maximum at the same time, but is there any real physiological advantage? In other words, does antagonist supersetting really help promote faster growth? Some of Arthur Jones’ research in the early 1970s says yes:
Since working the triceps muscle also involves a far lighter form of work for the opposing muscle, the biceps, you can produce faster and better recovery by working your upper-arm muscles alternately—the slight amount of work provided for the biceps by working the triceps will cause the biceps to recover better than it would if it was rested entirely, and vice versa. Thus, by working the triceps heavily during the rest period between heavy sets for the biceps, you will perform better during your second set for your biceps than you would if you did nothing between the two sets for your biceps. Far better results are produced by working faster—rest periods actually have an effect exactly opposite to that which might be expected.
Although Jones specifically targeted the biceps and triceps with his discussion, the question arose as to whether lifters might experience this productive training effect by working other opposing muscle groups with supersets. Arnold certainly found the technique to be just as result producing for chest and back. Arnold loved feeling larger than life, and when he used supersets, he got his big fix a lot faster than when he used straight sets.
Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when using antagonist-muscle supersets:
•Do a light warmup set for each movement before beginning your supersets.
•Go immediately from the first exercise in your superset to the second—taking no rest.
•Rest two to three minutes between supersets.
•Always keep your set total at around 25 and never do more than 30—that’s for the entire workout, not per bodypart. Supersetting is more stressful on your recovery system than performing straight sets, so don’t overdo it.
•Maintain strict form on all sets—no jerking or heaving. You want target muscle stimulation and saturation, not secondary-mover fatigue.
If you’re looking for some new growth stimulation—and an ego boost to boot—try the Antagonist-Muscle Superset Routine that accompanies this article.
Antagonist-Muscle Superset Routine
Monday & Thursday
Quadriceps & Hamstrings
Squats, 2-3 x 6-8
Leg curls, 2-3 x 6-8
Stiff-legged deadlifts, 2-3 x 6-8
Leg extensions, 2-3 x 6-8
Triceps & Biceps*
Barbell curls, 2 x 6-8
Pushdowns, 2 x 6-8
Abs & Calves**
Full-range crunches, 2-3 x 8-10
Standing calf raises, 2-3 x 12-18
Tuesday & Friday
Chest & Midback
Bench presses, 2-3 x 6-8
T-bar rows, 2-3 x 6-8
Upper Chest & Lats
presses, 2-3 x 6-8
Undergrip pulldowns, 2-3 x 6-8
Deltoids & Midback
Military presses, 2-3 x 6-8
pulldowns, 2-3 x 6-8
Deltoids & Lats
Dumbbell upright rows, 2-3 x 6-8
Pullovers, 2-3 x 6-8
*Do fewer sets for biceps and triceps because you train them indirectly the following day with chest, back and delt work.
**Abdominals and calves aren’t antagonistic muscle groups, but supersetting them keeps you in the superset mode and saves time.
*Reprinted by permission from Iron Man magazine.